As I sit here preparing myself to write about keeping calm and decreasing stress, my first – and LOUDEST – thought is It is a strange time. With constant updates about COVID-19 around the world, news articles about ongoing research, interviews with quarantined patients, and a growing list of closures and the challenges because of them … it is a strange time. As someone who works from home, spending most of my day in front of a computer screen, trying to shut out the news is nearly impossible. I feel stress. I get anxious. How can I get through this pandemic (arggh! Scary word!)? How can I stay calm, not only for myself, but for my child who sees my stress and worry and is also trying to deal with this situation?
You probably have similar thoughts and the growing number of articles online can be overwhelming. I’ve read quite a few of these, and here are the basic take-aways for how to cope:
- Self-care is vital. Eat healthy meals and snacks, make time for regular exercise, and get lots of sleep. Step away from your work and stretch or take deep breaths. Meditate on positive things (ex. your children laughing, birds are still singing outside, the sun is shining) or imagine being in a serene place (ex. beach, mountains, cabin in the woods).
- Make time for activities you enjoy. Used to play piano but could never fit it in to your schedule? Fit it in. Have a box of yarn for knitting? Start knitting. Spring is here, so dig into your garden.
- Call, text, email, or video chat with others. Communicate with people you trust with your feelings, your stresses, your worries. Listen to them. Laugh together. Cry together.
- Take breaks from everything COVID-19 related. The news and daily updates can be overwhelming and unsettling so take breaks and check in at specific times of the day, ex. in the morning with your coffee or mid-day with a snack (food is comforting 😉).
- Call your primary care physician if your stress and worry is getting in the way of daily activities for more than a few days in a row.
If you have children at home, they are watching how you are coping as they are trying to work through their feelings about the “new normal” that is being thrust on them. It might seem that schooling from home and social distancing is great in the beginning (more time with the parentals, pets, and in pjs) but this may change quickly. The best thing you can do is keep calm and stay informed (without drowning yourself in updates and experiences). Go to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and your local health agencies for current COVID-19 information and guidelines. Here are some other essential To-Do’s:
- Have an honest conversation with your children about what’s going on. Possibly ask:
- What do you understand about what’s going on?
- How are you feeling about what you know?
- Do you have any worries about how things are changing your routine? your plans? your goals?
- Then listen without interruption. Let your children pour out their feelings – their concerns, their worries, their anger, their anxiety. Validate their feelings. You probably have similar feelings and they should hear that, but also reassure them – through words and actions – that there are things they can control and that you are there to listen and comfort them when they need it.
- Correct any misconceptions or misunderstandings about COVID-19, any current directives by local government, or what they have heard/read on social media. Of course, do this in a calm, reassuring manner. Remind them that experts around the world are working hard to stop the spread of the virus, and our willingness to listen and follow guidelines supports that work.
- Develop a routine and as much as possible, stick to it. If your children are now being schooled at home because of school closures, create a schedule. Include breaks and fun activities to help your children relax and yet stay focused on learning.
- Be a positive role model. Let them see you take breaks to meditate, stretch, go for a walk. Let them see you eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep. Let them see you connect with friends and family.
- Try some mindfulness exercises to help decrease anxiety and build up ways for your children to regain “balance” at a time when things seem incredibly off-balance. A few of these exercises include taking deep breaths, journaling, drawing emotions, and observing things in their environment.
- Be observant. Note any changes in your children’s behavior, attitude, and physical habits. Behaviors such as excessive crying or sadness, acting out, inability to focus, avoiding activities they used to enjoy, or complaints of headaches or body pain. These could be signs that they are not dealing well with this dynamic situation. If you feel you’ve tried to do all you can to be a source of comfort and they are exhibiting these behaviors for more than several days, contact your pediatrician or primary care physician for guidance.
This is a strange time, but it can also be a time of opportunities – opportunities to reconnect with your children and other loves ones, regain the sense of self that you may have lost due to work and other life responsibilities, and truly take note of positives that, in the past, may have been overlooked.